Child Protection and COVID-19: Pandemic is tough for everyone, but it can be especially hard for children

Q: How has the pandemic affected child welfare in Idaho?

A: The pandemic has affected child welfare in Idaho in all kinds of ways. Parents are stressed, children are stressed, everyone is stressed, and we are all staying home more than ever so we don’t get sick or make others sick. That can mean children and families have less support than ever before. This can be a tough combination for healthy relationships between parents and children.

It’s important to know these strange and unprecedented times are affecting all of us and we can all use a little extra support so situations don’t get out of control. There are resources available to help during these particularly hard times. The COVID Help Now Line offers statewide support to anyone who is feeling distress related to the pandemic. Responders can help talk through supports and coping strategies. It’s anonymous and available 8 a.m. -8 p.m. MT seven days a week by calling 866-947-5186.

It’s also important to remember that child protection is a responsibility for all of us, and if you have concerns about a family situation or a child’s safety, it’s important to reach out and report your concerns by calling the Idaho CareLine at 2-1-1.

Continue reading “Child Protection and COVID-19: Pandemic is tough for everyone, but it can be especially hard for children”

A Day in the Life of Erika Vasquez, 2-1-1 CareLine Agent

Idaho’s 2-1-1 CareLine is staffed Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. MDT, to assist Idahoans seeking resources for free or low-cost services within their community. 2-1-1 agents can assist callers by referring them to resources such as rental assistance, energy assistance, medical assistance, food and clothing, child care resources, emergency shelter, and more.

Erika Vasquez is a teleworking 2-1-1 CareLine Agent. CareLine calls are patched through to her home router through the Meraki system, so she can securely take 2-1-1 phone calls.
Erika Vasquez is a teleworking 2-1-1 CareLine Agent. CareLine calls are patched through to her home router through the Meraki system, so she can securely take 2-1-1 phone calls. Photo provided by Erika Vasquez

On a normal day at work answering calls on the 2-1-1 CareLine, Erika Vasquez sits at her work station in one corner of an open plan room. She is happily surrounded by the chatter of her six CareLine colleagues as they take back-to-back phone calls from Idahoans reaching out for information, resources, and services.

The calls are as varied as the services that Idahoans need from the department and beyond. Callers may be reaching out for help paying for rent, utilities, food, clothing, or other basic essentials. Callers might be fellow DHW employees, looking for phone numbers for department programs. Callers from the public are often looking for services offered by programs outside the department, such as social security or unemployment benefits.

When it comes to services and information available to Idahoans, Erika and her team know a bit about everything. And while it may seem they can help with most questions, they do have their limits. “We do get calls asking for the phone number for Burger King, but we won’t give them that. We might suggest they look for it on Google or in the phone book,” says Erika.

These phone conversations are punctuated by quick chats among the CareLine team members. Any time any of them need anything, they shout out to each other and help each other out. Perhaps they are stumped by a question. Perhaps they’ve just had a difficult conversation with a caller who was emotional and in crisis. Erika and her colleagues work together like clockwork, and support each other through every work day.

On any given day at work, Erika and her six colleagues each take around 60 to 100 calls per day. While the average call is one minute and forty seconds, calls can range from just one minute, to over 20 minutes. The team stagger their working hours to keep the CareLine open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. MST. This way, the line is open during business hours for all Idahoans, whether they are calling from the north, on Pacific Time, or from the south, on Mountain Time. Continue reading “A Day in the Life of Erika Vasquez, 2-1-1 CareLine Agent”

Carlos Ramos observes a parent and a child on a supervised visit.

A day in the life of Carlos Ramos, psychosocial rehabilitation specialist at DHW

As Carlos Ramos, psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, breezes through the regional office where he is based, his banter with colleagues leaves a warm wake of energy, humor, and generosity. His every interaction speaks of his inspired dedication to his team’s work, and his obvious passion for helping Idahoans.

Carlos Ramos, pyschosocial rehabilitation specialist, and Christine Poff, client services technician, pause for a photo before starting their work day in Family and Community Services. See page 3 to read about a day in the life of Carlos.
Carlos Ramos, pyschosocial rehabilitation specialist, and Christine Poff, client services technician, pause for a photo before starting their work day in Family and Community Services.

Carlos has worked for the state for more than 11 years. When we meet him, it has been two weeks since his promotion to the newly developed role of psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, although he prefers to refer to his role as “family engagement specialist.” Prior to this, he was a client services technician for several years. His work involved providing support for supervised visits between children who are in foster care and their families. In his new role, he focuses more on proactive training and relationship building between clients and department staff. Ultimately, his work is always focused on providing support and resources that will lead toward the path of safe reunification for the family.

Carlos glows with natural charm as he introduces us to his colleagues in the office. He poses for a picture with one colleague, Christine Poff, teasing her (or himself): “You should sit down for this photo. You’re too tall!” he says. To another colleague, he checks that they are still planning on having tamales for lunch sometime this week. He checks the staff notes board to see if his former supervisor, Sharon Campbell, is in. He describes her as “magic” and talks about her glowingly and at length throughout our visit. A colleague appears from a visitation room cradling a baby, and Carlos strides over, unable to help himself from joining in. As he leans down toward the baby, his normal smile broadens and beams over his entire face. “You’re one of those cute babies!” he coos. Continue reading “A day in the life of Carlos Ramos, psychosocial rehabilitation specialist at DHW”

A day in the life of Michael Campbell

Michael works as a psychiatric technician caring for those at Southwest Idaho Treatment Center

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Michael Campbell records medication as he hands it out to the residents of Southwest Idaho Treatment Center early one morning this summer.

When you meet Michael Campbell, your first impression might be of an avid outdoorsman, his skin tanned from hiking in the hot Idaho sun. His jeans and blue T-shirt (with a frog on it) would make you think he is more worried about comfort than fashion. His warm smile and easy-going manner will give you the feeling that he’s living an easy, comfortable life.

His actual daily routine is demanding, exhausting, and sometimes heartbreaking. It would be overwhelming to most of us.

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Chalk drawings decorate the patio of one of the residential units at SWITC.

Michael got his tan by spending many hours in the hot sun drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk with the people he calls his family. The frog on his T-shirt is intentional and helps to draw the attention of residents at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) as he hands out medications. “What’s this on my shirt? You think it’s a frog? You’re a smart guy. I’m so proud of you,” he says to a resident. His smile is because he loves what he does. His easy-going manner is what keeps him a favorite among staff and residents.

Michael has spent close to 40,000 hours or 19 years “on the floor” as he calls it. His job is tough, and it’s not for everyone. But his job as a psychiatric technician, or psych tech, is his passion. He spends his days making sure the current SWITC residents have a home away from home. He wants them to feel protected, loved, and honored. The residents may be autistic or have other developmental disabilities. They may sometimes harm themselves or others. Some are unable to communicate. Some need one-to-one care all day, every day. Michael simply wants to help them live their best life as they continue their journey to self-sufficiency.

The primary responsibility of a psych tech is to implement the person-centered plan for each resident. This plan includes skills training, medication administration, and behavioral training support. At SWITC, there are currently 45 psych tech positions. The psych techs do not have standard shifts, but they do have their own shift usually working 8 to 10 hours. Jamie Newton, SWITC administrator, said they discovered that not having groups of employees come in or leave at the same time lessened anxiety among the residents. Continue reading “A day in the life of Michael Campbell”

SWITC complaint is unsubstantiated, survey says

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is pleased to announce that a complaint investigation at Southwest Idaho Treatment Center has been completed, and the conclusion of the third-party survey team is that the complaint is unsubstantiated.

“I am so pleased to see our efforts recognized in the outcome of this survey,” said SWITC Administrator Jamie Newton. “We have been working diligently to update policies, procedures, and practice to address the issues we discovered in the summer of 2017. This is good news.” Continue reading “SWITC complaint is unsubstantiated, survey says”

DHW Director: DisAbility Rights Idaho report is inaccurate and incomplete

A troubling report released today by DisAbility Rights Idaho presents an inaccurate and incomplete picture of our operations at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) in Nampa.

The report makes some serious allegations about our staff and our ability to provide a safe home for the residents of SWITC. None of the issues raised in the report are new or recent. In fact, all of the issues have been and continue to be addressed. While we appreciate and respect the work done by DisAbility Rights Idaho, we have serious issues with a report that contains numerous factual inaccuracies. Information gained during our own investigations and licensure surveys has led to increased emphasis on ensuring the safety of our residents and our employees. We have done our best to be transparent. But we are also bound by privacy and confidentiality laws that limit what we can say. We are not able to provide the additional context necessary to tell the entire story.

Contrary to what the report says, we first notified media and the public in August 2017 when we identified inappropriate and abusive employee behavior that was not meeting our standards. We launched an extensive internal investigation into the allegations. As a result, six employees were terminated. However, the Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges based on the Nampa Police Department investigation.

A licensure survey last summer and follow-up surveys resulted in several findings that we are continuing to address. SWITC has implemented plans of correction that also must be approved and checked as part of the licensure surveys.

SWITC annual licensure survey ended this past week.  It was a full survey that looked at SWITC’s compliance with more than 470 federal regulations. The surveyors also conducted a complaint investigation, addressing some of the same allegations DRI makes in its report. The survey team reviewed many of the abuse investigation reports from 2017 and 2018 and interviewed clients, staff, parents, guardians, and agencies, including Adult Protection Services.  Continue reading “DHW Director: DisAbility Rights Idaho report is inaccurate and incomplete”

Tearjerker Alert: Idaho kids tell their stories about being raised by relatives

2018cover“I have always called my grandpa Dad because he has always raised and treated me the way a father should.” – Greyson, age 8.

“I’ve lived with my grandparents since 7 years old and I can’t describe how much they’ve changed my life. Without their support, love and kindness, I wouldn’t be doing half of what I do.” – Madysen, age 15.

“Ever since my mom passed away my family started falling apart and it didn’t feel like the same no more. I’m glad I got to live with my sister because she is always there for me no matter what.” – Lidia, age 13.

“My new family has five brothers and sisters and two parents, who are my aunt and uncle, but I call them Mom and Dad.” – Emily, age 6.

Read the rest of their stories and see artwork from other Idaho children who were recognized in the Idaho KinCare Project 2018 My Family. My Story. contest hereContinue reading “Tearjerker Alert: Idaho kids tell their stories about being raised by relatives”

Attend the Kincare Speaking Tour May 22-24: Help for Idaho’s 28,000 “grandfamilies”

KincareTourAcross the United States, almost 7.8 million children are living in homes where grandparents or other relatives are the householders, with more than 5.8 million children living in grandparents’ homes and nearly 2 million children living in other relatives’ homes. These families are often called “grandfamilies.”

Here in Idaho, the numbers of “grandfamilies” is just as sobering:   Continue reading “Attend the Kincare Speaking Tour May 22-24: Help for Idaho’s 28,000 “grandfamilies””

It’s the Week of the Young Child! We’re celebrating early learning, young children, teachers and Idaho families!

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Contributed by: Ashtin Glōdt, Program Specialist, Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

The Week of the Young Child is an annual celebration hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). From April 16 to 21, Idahoans will be celebrating early learning, young children, their teachers, and families.

Locally, the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children (Idaho AEYC) leads the celebration efforts with community events across the state. This year the Idaho AEYC will be holding a FREE family-friendly outdoor celebration at the Boise Botanical Gardens on Saturday, April 21st. Visit idahoaeyc.org for more information about community events and how to get involved in the Idaho AEYC. Continue reading “It’s the Week of the Young Child! We’re celebrating early learning, young children, teachers and Idaho families!”

Thanksgiving is also National Family Health History Day – Do you know the medical history of your relatives?

family-photo-827763_640When the U.S. Surgeon General declared in 2004 that National Family Health History Day would fall on Thanksgiving each year, he was acknowledging the importance of knowing your family health history. You and your family share genes, culture, behaviors, and environments – all of which can have an impact on your health. When you know that information and share it with your doctor, he or she can make more informed choices for how to personalize your health screenings and treatment. Thanksgiving can be a great time to talk with your family about how your health is related, so you can give your doctor the best information possible. Continue reading “Thanksgiving is also National Family Health History Day – Do you know the medical history of your relatives?”